AU professor receives visiting scholar fellowship at University of Victoria
Recently, Athabasca University (AU) professor Dr. Tobias Wiggins received a fellowship as a visiting scholar from the University of Victoria (UVic), awarded by the Chair in Transgender Studies.
This fellowship allows Wiggins the opportunity to do archival research at the Transgender Archives at UVic. The Transgender Archives collection is the largest trans archive in the world. Since 2007, they have collected archival material that spans over 160 meters or 530 linear feet (1.5 football fields long) and goes back over 120 years in 15 languages from 23 countries.
The archive is significant because it creates a space for the records and histories of trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and two-spirit individuals. The book The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future explores the archives’ history and further information about trans activism and research. It also shares highlights from the collection, such as the University of Victoria Libraries’ 1893 copy of Psychopathia Sexualis by Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, which played an instrumental role in the construction of “perverse” or non-normative sexuality, and the subsequent medicalization of trans people’s lives.
“There’s a kind of proximity to a history that you can’t get by reading a book, which inevitably contains the interpretations of its authors,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important for marginalized people, who historically excluded from historical records, to have access to the rich archive of our transgender communities.”
Wiggins said visiting the archives offers an opportunity to expand his knowledge, gather material for his research, and find inspiration for a new course in Transgender Health he’s currently developing at AU. There’s also the added benefit of physically seeing the archival material that isn’t available through digital viewing.
“When you’re in an archive, and you’re really touching this material,” he said. “For example, you’re holding the buttons from a trans protest in the 70s, or you can see the text from 1893 that you know spurred the classification for gender differences as pathological. There’s this kind of visceral effect of being in the room or being in the presence of that material.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also inspired a new research direction for Wiggins, as it has for many scholars at AU. His upcoming study will investigate the impacts of the pandemic on transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) communities’ mental health in Alberta. By focusing on digital world-building and the ways TGNC communities survive hardship through technology, he aims to further use the transgender archive to unearth histories of collectivization and models of TGNC kinship. Wiggins recently presented on this topic at the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences COVID-19 symposium in early October.